COVID-19 necessitates changes to ordination ceremony

The only way most people will be able to watch the ordinations of Deacons Travis Mecum and Anthony Mersmann will be through livestream. LEAVE PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Msgr. Michael Mullen hasn’t missed an archdiocesan ordination since 1962, when he himself was ordained a priest.

But odds are, he’ll miss those on May 23.

And he won’t be alone. A lot of people won’t be there — even most of the relatives of the two men being ordained — because of state and archdiocesan directives limiting the size of gatherings and a halt to public Masses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deacon Travis Mecum and Deacon Anthony Mersmann will be ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann later this month in a largely empty Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas.

It’s a historic, unusual ordination. Nothing like this has happened within living memory in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

As archdiocesan co-director of seminarians, Msgr. Mullen is the one who plays a key role in the election of the ordination candidates.

“There’s a point in the liturgy when I announce the name, call the candidates forward and recommend them to the archbishop for ordination,” he said.

“And then, the archbishop responds, ‘Then we will ordain them priests of the archdiocese.’ When he says this, the whole congregation erupts in ‘Thanks be to God,’ and there is tremendous applause. It’s a beautiful moment,” he added.

There will be no congregation this year. No thunderous “Thanks be to God,” and no tremendous applause.

The essential elements of the ordination liturgy will be there, but it will be somewhat “stripped down.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the archdiocese to take many special precautions for the ordinations of Deacons Travis Mecum and Anthony Mersmann, limiting attendance to just the parents of the ordained and those integral to the ceremony or its livestreaming. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

“The challenge is to limit who absolutely needs to be there,” said Father Scott Wallisch, archdiocesan co-director of seminarians. “We will need to determine who will attend and what they will do, and how they’re going to fulfill their role and maintain social distance. That is the biggest logistical challenge for us.”

The only family members present will be the parents of those being ordained. Also present will be the archbishop, a deacon, a master of ceremonies, three servers, the organist, a cantor, one priest from the archdiocesan vocations team and three videographers  producing the livestream video.

No decision has been made yet about the inclusion of vesting priests for the men being ordained.

There will be no crowd of archdiocesan priests to concelebrate the Mass, though, or greet them with applause as the newly ordained step through the doors of the cathedral and join their number. There will be no first blessings and reception with family, friends and well-wishers. First Masses will be scaled back, too.

The ordinands can’t help but feel a little disappointed. But there is also joy, gratitude and a surprising ability to find a silver lining in it all.

“I would be lying if I didn’t say it was somewhat disappointing in some respects,” said Deacon Mecum. “If you look at my story of my life, it doesn’t surprise me.

“To be honest, I am thankful to archbishop and Father Wallisch that they decided to go ahead with the ordination as scheduled. I am so close to my lifelong dream. And I can’t wait to become a priest and celebrate Mass for the people of God and minister to them in their time of need.

“So, yes,” he continued, “it would have been nice to have everyone there to celebrate with me. But once things open up, we’ll have a celebration. Until then, I can have some form of ministry.”

Meanwhile, Deacon Mersmann observed that the simplified ordination has made it possible for him to focus more fully on the sacrament of holy orders and the priesthood.

“I can see God the Father is inviting me to live a life at the cross and on the cross, like his Son,” said Deacon Mersmann. “Having everything external that would normally distract me . . . stripped away is actually helpful in having focus on what an offering this is, and what the reality of priesthood is.

“The priesthood is a life profoundly at the cross and on the cross.”

People are invited to join the deacons’ families, friends and supporters from across the archdiocese by livestream for this historic ordination on May 23. To access the livestream at 10:30 a.m. from the Cathedral of St. Peter, go online to: livestream.com/archkck/priests.

Those who wish to send a card or note of congratulations to the newly ordained can mail them to: Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, 12615 Parallel Pkwy., Kansas City, KS 66109.

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